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Avoiding Noise Induced Hearing Loss

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Everyone has been told to turn their music down at some point or another. At times it feels like the equivalent of “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

Most of us know that being exposed to loud sound for an extended period of time can damage our hearing, but the details may not be apparent. How loud is too loud? How long is too long? Isn’t hearing loss just something my grandparents have?

Being equipped with the answers to these questions will empower you to make informed choices and prioritize your hearing health.

1. Who is at risk?

Almost everyone, regardless of age, is at risk for Noise Induced Hearing Loss. College students, in particular, engage in activities that can be harmful to their hearing health.

These activities include attending sporting events or concerts on campus without adequate hearing protection. Members of the Jaguar Marching Band can be exposed to damaging sound levels during hours of practice and performance if adequate hearing protection is not worn. Students who have jobs in landscaping, construction, or bartending can also be exposed to harmful sound levels.

Hunting, mowing the lawn, using leaf blowers and operating other types of loud machinery without proper hearing protection can be harmful. Additionally, anyone who listens to their personal listening devices too loudly is at risk.

Think back to the last concert or loud event you attended. How did your ears feel afterwards? Ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a sensation of fullness, and a seemingly muffled feeling can be symptoms of a temporary threshold shift.

A temporary threshold shift is a temporary loss of hearing and can result from exposure to loud noise for an extended period of time. Even though these symptoms are temporary, repeated temporary damage can add up to a permanent problem, putting you at risk for developing Noise Induced Hearing Loss.

2. How loud is too loud?

The extent of damage to the auditory system from noise exposure depends on several factors: the decibel level of the noise (loudness), how close you are to the noise source (distance), and the duration of noise exposure (time). The louder the noise level, the greater risk of damage to your hearing. Research shows that sounds greater than 85 decibels can become hazardous to one’s hearing health and can cause a significant decrease in hearing over time. For distance, the closer you are to the noise source, the louder the sound is that reaches your ear. It is important to distance yourself from loud speakers, bands, fireworks, etc., to decrease the risk of hearing damage. The longer the duration of exposure to loud sounds, the greater the risk of hearing loss. As the loudness of sounds increase, the duration of exposure should decrease rapidly.

It is recommended to limit exposure to sounds at 85 decibels to 8 hours. Individuals who are exposed to sounds that are above 85 decibels should limit their exposure to below 8 hours.

Now that you have a little background on what can cause noise induced hearing loss, what sounds are you encountering that could be damaging your hearing?

3. How to Listen Safely:

None of the aforementioned statistics mean that you can’t enjoy going to see your favorite band it simply means you might need to adjust your listening habits. Several studies have measured the maximum volume output of iPhones at 115 dB, louder than a lawn mower.

Most sources recommend keeping your volume at 60 percent or less, but don’t forget about the relationship between time and volume. If you are listening at levels higher than 60 percent, limit the amount of time you are listening and give your ears “breaks” of quiet.

Noise cancelling headphones reduce the amount background noise that competes with your music, meaning you won’t have to turn your volume up as high to drown out the sounds around you.

When you know in advance you will be in a loud environment like a football game or concert, wear hearing protection. The classic yellow 3M plugs are available in bulk on Amazon and are effective for a variety of environments.

These do take practice to insert correctly and the protection they provide is based on the quality of the fit.

For casual musicians and frequent concert-goers, there are special plugs that provide protection without causing the music to sound muffled or distorted called “high fidelity” plugs. These can be found easily through online retailers like Amazon.

For professional musicians, music majors, and band members, custom hearing protection can be a valuable investment. While more expensive, these devices are more comfortable over long periods of time because they are made to fit the individual’s unique ear shape. For these, you would need to visit an audiologist so that they can made custom impressions of your ears.

Finally, an easy and free way to be more aware of your noise exposure is to measure the level of noise you are around. There are several free sound level meter apps available, though their accuracy depends a great deal on the calibration of your phone’s microphone.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Sound Level Meter app can measure noise. It’s free and contains a wealth of information in addition to being a fairly accurate way to measure noise levels.

4. What to do if you think you have a hearing loss:

You will need to see an audiologist to have your hearing tested accurately. Audiologists are the health care professionals who specialize in hearing and balance disorders. We have an ear, nose, throat physician and multiple audiologists at the Speech and Hearing Center on USA’s campus. The center is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

After scheduling your hearing test, make sure that you aren’t exposed to loud noise for at least 14 hours prior to the appointment.

Exposure to noises above 85 decibels within this time frame can negatively affect your results. The testing conducted will include a baseline audiogram that makes it easier to track changes in your hearing over time.

If a hearing loss is identified, the audiologist can work with you to provide amplification and communication strategies to help you cope in difficult listening situations.

Lastly, you should make sure to protect your residual hearing and prevent any further loss by using the hearing protective devices listed above.

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Avoiding Noise Induced Hearing Loss